The ordeal took place on the 13th of September after Karjalainen and fellow musicians Ninni Poijärvi and Mika Kuokkanen had arrived at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport for a three week tour through the U.S. states of Minnesota and Michigan, including meetings with Finnish-Americans and performances at Finnish-American cultural events. They were joined by Finnish documentary filmmaker Erkki Määttänen, who was making a TV programme about the visit for Finnish public broadcaster YLE.
The four were stopped by customs officials and interrogated for nearly three hours. “The treatment was bad,” Karjalainen told Finnish daily Helsingin Sanomat. “’Don’t lie to us’, they yelled at us all the time.”
The Finns were each taken to separate rooms for questioning. Their luggage was checked by sniffer dogs. “First they suspected drugs. Then crime registers were asked for, “, said the singer, who described the actions of the officials as “supremacy“ and “humiliating“.
The questioning focused on whether or not the group came to earn money in the United States, while they were entering the country without work permits.
Threats, accused of lying
"They threatened us with severe punishments if we talk to each other," the Star Tribune quoted from the complaint that was signed by musicians Ninni Poijärvi and Mika Kuokkanen, "Through the walls, I can hear officers yelling, screaming. They ask about the purpose of our trip — except we are only allowed to give yes-or-no answers. I try to talk about our plans to meet with Finnish-American folk musicians. Nobody listens. They interrupt me constantly and they yell, 'You are a liar!"'
Filmmaker Määttänen told of similar experiences in the room he was kept in. "From the beginning, they said I was lying, that these guys were coming here to work. They were shouting at me, and people were going in and out of doors. They tried to put you down mentally, to humiliate you."
The Finns were released after nearly three hours, without any explanation or apology, according to the complaint.
A press officer for the regional Customs and Border Protection office in Chicago, who had not seen the complaint yet, told in a reaction that if such behaviour had indeed occurred, it would be against the agency’s policy and thoroughly investigated.
J. Karjalainen is one of Finland’s most popular singer-songwriters and a well-known devotee of Finnish-American folk music. Last year he released Lännen Jukka, Amerikansuomalaisia lauluja (Jukka of the West, Finnish-American songs), a collection of Finnish-American blues songs and a tribute to his musical mentor. The album was widely considered one of the best Finnish recordings of 2006.
Minnesota's Finnish guests find a rude airport welcome – Star Tribune
J. Karjalainen – official label site (in Finnish)
Lännen Jukka – official album website (in Finnish)
J. Karjalainen records classic Finnish-American songs – Helsingin Sanomat International Edition
Jukka Karjalainen "Channels" Old Country Blues… – New World Finn